Markel Brown, rebounding keys for No. 7 Oklahoma State moving forward

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LAS VEGAS, Nev. — When Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash all announced that they would be returning to Stillwater for another season, Oklahoma State fans immediately began to think championship thoughts. Oklahoma State hasn’t won the Big 12 regular season title since 2004, and their last Big 12 tournament title came in 2005, so it’s safe to say that the program is hungry for another championship.

In their 78-73 win over No. 20 Colorado on Saturday night, it was a group effort that led the Cowboys to their 11th win of the season. Brown scored 23 points, and with Michael Cobbins struggling mightily (two points, one rebound and five fouls) he also grabbed 11 rebounds to post his first double-double of the season.

Brown was one of four Cowboys to finish in double figures, with Smart (18 points), Phil Forte III (16) and Nash (15) being the others. Oklahoma State’s offensive balance was on full display in the second half as they shot 61.9% from the field and averaged 1.24 points per possession, doing a far better job of distributing the basketball. That isn’t about passing the ball around so much as it’s about finding guys in spots where they can be most successful.

“I didn’t like our offense in the first half. I kept telling our guys that we were our own worst enemy,” Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford said after the game. “Throwing the ball away, taking some tough shots…we’ll get the shot we want if we just be patient and get the ball to certain people in certain places. In the second half we did that. We got the ball to the right people in the right places, and good things happened.”

The chief beneficiary of this against Colorado was Brown, and in a game that featured two of the nation’s best point guards he stood out. Oklahoma State is the biggest threat to Kansas’ current run of nine straight (outright or shared) Big 12 regular season titles, with Markel Brown being one reason why. And with that has come the recognition that wasn’t always there.

“I think he used to be [overlooked]. I think now he has the reputation of being one of the better players in America,” noted Ford. “More people are realizing that he can score, defend and rebound, so I think everybody knows about him now.”

There are areas in which Oklahoma State needs to improve before the start of Big 12 play, with rebounding being one. On the season opponents are rebounding more than 32% of their missed shots, with Colorado corralling almost 43% of their misses on Saturday. That resulted in 21 second-chance points for the Buffaloes, keeping them afloat despite shooting 6-for-22 from beyond the arc.

And with the front courts that teams like Baylor, Kansas and Iowa State feature, how well Oklahoma State performs on the glass will determine their place in the Big 12 pecking order.

“Definitely rebounding,” Brown said when asked where the Cowboys need to improve. “It was big tonight, and it’s going to be big all through the Big 12. If we rebound and continue to get back and stop teams in transition, then we’ll be great.”

Syracuse upsets No. 18 UConn as Tyler Lydon stars again

St Bonaventure Syracuse Basketball
AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth
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Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney combined for 34 points as Syracuse overcame an early 10-point deficit to knock off No. 18 UConn in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, 79-76.

The talking point at the end of this game is probably going to end up being UConn’s decision not to foul Syracuse with 36 seconds left on the clock. Trevor Cooney dribbled out the clock and, with six seconds left, missed a 35-foot prayer, the offensive rebound getting corralled by Tyler Roberson, sealing the win.

But that’s not the real story here.

That would be Tyler Lydon, who suddenly looks like he may end up being the difference maker for this Syracuse team.

If you don’t know the name, I don’t blame you. Lydon was a low-end top 100 recruit that had been committed to the Orange for a long time. He’s not exactly a game-changing prospect, but he’s a perfect fit for Syracuse. At 6-foot-9, Lydon has the length to be a shot-blocker in the middle of the 2-3 zone — he entered Thursday averaging 3.3 blocks — but his biggest skill is his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. When he plays the middle of that zone, when he is essentially the five for the Orange, they become incredibly difficult to matchup with defensively.

The question is whether or not he can consistently be that guy on the defensive end of the floor. Against UConn, Lydon had 16 points and 12 boards. Against Charlotte, he finished with 18 points, eight boards and six blocks. But neither the Huskies nor the 49ers have a big front line that crashes the offensive glass.

Lydon is great at using his length to make shots in the lane difficult, but at (a generous) 205 pounds, he may run into trouble against bigger, stronger front court players.

The perfect test?

Texas A&M, who the Orange will play in the title game on Friday.

USC holds on to beat No. 20 Wichita State

Andy Enfield
Associated Press
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With guards Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet both sidelined due to injury, No. 20 Wichita State arrived at the Advocare Invitational shorthanded. But even with that being the case the highly successful Shockers represented quite the opportunity for USC, and Thursday afternoon the Trojans took advantage.

Despite turning the ball over 23 times Andy Enfield’s team found a way to win, hanging on to beat the Shockers by the final score of 72-69. Freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, a tough matchup for most teams as a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who can score from the perimeter, shot 5-for-9 from three and scored a team-high (and career-high) 22 points.

The tandem of he and junior Nikola Jovanovic, who added 14 points and 11 rebounds, outplayed the Wichita State front court on a day in which the Shockers needed greater contributions from those players. Add in 15 points and four assists from Jordan McLaughlin, ten points off the bench from Katin Reinhardt and a 12-for-23 afternoon from three, and the Trojans were able to do enough to make up for their high turnover count and Wichita State’s 24 points off of turnovers.

Given the absence of VanVleet and Shamet there’s no reason to panic regarding Wichita State. Ron Baker, who was exhausted by the end of the game due to the heavy load he was asked to shoulder, scored a game-high 25 points and the play of freshman Markis McDuffie was a positive to build on.

McDuffie, who entered Thursday’s game without a made field goal in his first two appearances as a Shocker, shot 5-for-9 from the field and contributed 14 points and three rebounds off the bench. With their current perimeter rotation being what it is McDuffie will have opportunities to contribute, and the Shockers will need him to take advantage as they await the returns of VanVleet and Shamet (and the addition of Conner Frankamp).

Doing so will not only help Wichita State in the short term but in the long-term as well, thus giving Gregg Marshall another option to call upon on his bench.

Thursday’s outcome, even with the desire to see more from Anton Grady (eight points, seven rebounds), says more about USC at this point in time than Wichita State. Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm were about amassing the talent needed to compete in the Pac-12 while also gaining valuable (and at times painful) experience. In year three the Trojans hope to take a step forward within the conference, and wins like this one provide evidence of the program’s growth.